Central's Swim Coach's Impact Runs Deeper than Championships, Wins
SAN ANGELO, TX -- The San Angelo Central boy’s and girl’s swim teams sent head coach David Hague out on top with a sweep of the District 2-6A championships in Midland last week.
The Bobcats scored 173 points at the meet for a comfortable margin with Midland High. All 17 Lady Cats scored points in the meet to score 193 points and the title.
It was the ninth straight district title for the Bobcats -- making them winners of 13 of the last 15 -- and the 10th title in the last 13 years for the Lady Cats.
“It’s nice to go out on top,” Hague said. “We’ve worked extremely hard this year. The kids have really come through. We’ve added some things and it’s really been a good year … To win another district title, I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
Hague is retiring at the end of this season after 41 years at the helm. Yet, the wins, district and regional titles and trips to state are just a small part of what defines Hague’s impact during a long, illustrious career that includes 33 combined district championships, two regional championships, 43 combined District Coach of the Year awards, eight combined Regional Coach of the Year selections and the Class 6A State Boy’s Coach of the Year award in 2016.
“[Coach Hague] is everything,” said Lady Cat senior Sophie Forbes. “Each year we’ve gotten better … Him leaving is kind of a big gap, but coach [Matt] McLaughlin is a really good coach.”
“I could say everything because he kinda started it,” said Bobcat senior Riley Hill. “It’s crazy to think he’s actually leaving.”
Though, Hill, Forbes and the rest of Central’s swim team knew it was a strong possibility Hague would leave sometime during their prep careers. With Hague staying to finish the 2018-19 season, it helped spark a fire in Central’s pool.
“He decided to stick it out and I’m really glad,” Hill said, “because he’s everything to the swim team. He takes care of everything, makes sure everything gets done.”
Hague, a standout swimmer and 1977 graduate of Keene State College 20 miles north of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, moved to be with his sister 2,055 miles away in Odessa after college because he couldn’t find a teaching job on the east coast.
So, Hague took a job as a fitness director at the Odessa YMCA. While there, Hague became friends with the coaches at Odessa High. Knowing that Hague was looking for a job as a coach, they told him about the opening at San Angelo Central in 1978 and the New England transplant applied.
As it turns out, Hague was the only candidate to apply for the job. So, he was hired by athletic director Dick Rittman and the rest, as they say, was history.
“Thank God for him hiring me,” Hague laughed. “As he tells it, I was the only applicant so he had to hire me, but I was one of his better hires.”
If you ask Hague, he'll tell you the fact he was the only applicant showed the low level the Central swim program was at prior to his arrival.
Now, 41 years later, Hague has built a swimming culture in a town that has little presence in the club ranks. He helped set up an after school swimming program for second to sixth graders. Along with the after school program, Hague helps out with 50 to 60 middle school swimmers, which has created continuity throughout his high school program.
“I think one thing is you’ve got the same coach for 41 years,” Hague said. “So, do things the right way. I work with kids from the time they’re eight years old in our after school program, middle school has been a really big help to us … I get to know them and train them, then move them up to high school. It’s a process and I’ve been there every step of the process.”
Matt McLaughlin was one product of Hague’s process and is set to take over the program. The Central graduate, class of 2009, was a four-time state qualifier and still holds the records for the 100 Butterfly and 500 Freestyle.
After graduating from Central, McLaughlin donned the red and black for the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals swim team. After college, McLaughlin took an opening at Odessa High and leaned on his former high school coach to guide him and the Bronchos swim team.
In August, Hague knew he was going into his final season. So, he wanted to make sure his team was in good hands. That meant getting approval to bring McLaughlin on as an assistant this year. Thanks to Hague’s vetting, McLaughlin was brought on.
“When he gave me the call that he wanted to bring me in and SAISD approved this shadow year, I couldn’t say no,” McLaughlin said. “This program means a lot to me. I wouldn’t wanna see it go to anyone else.”
Now, 16 Bobcats and 16 Lady Cats will compete at the Class 6A Region I swim meet in Lubbock next week.
The Lady Cats are coming off a surprising district title -- they thought they’d finish a respectable second in 2-6A. That was before all 17 swimmers scored points to lift them to the title.
While they know the regional meet brings a new level of competition, they’re confident they can put on a good showing.
“I think it helps a lot,” McLaughlin said of the effect of winning the district meet.
Forbes, a three-time state qualifier hoping for a fourth trip, added the team is “feeling really good going into regionals. We’re just gonna have to be on our A-game and have it in that moment.”
The Bobcats and Lady Cats will take to Texas Tech’s Pete Ragus Aquatic Center in the Region I meet on Feb. 1-2.